Coming back to EcoQuest.
There sits a small town on the coast of the Firth of Thames named Kaiaua. Few people, including native kiwis themselves, know of this fishing town. Kaiaua, however, holds a pot of gold cherished by the lucky few who have gotten to experience it: Kaiaua Fisheries (also known as the best fish n chips shop in the entire world).
Upon leaving Auckland, we headed straight to the little blue shop for the nostalgic taste of fried hoki and garlic aoili.
Better still, there sits a small campus just north of these chips in a town called Whakatiwai (the wh- is pronounced as “f”.) This campus is near and dear to my heart, as many of my friends reading this can attest to. EcoQuest Education Foundation is a precious gem that only the luckiest of college students get to discover.
EcoQuest is a field studies program accredited through the University of New Hampshire, drawing anywhere between 20-26 students from around the US every semester. For 15 weeks (or 5 weeks for the summer program), “EcoQuesters” are immersed in hands-on learning all over beautiful Aotearoa. From the sparkling waters of Goat Island in the north to the secluded forests of Craigieburn in the south, insightful EcoQuest educators turn the natural world into a classroom with just a few Write In The Rain notebooks.
I was lucky enough to spend my fall semester of 2015 at EcoQuest - or rather spring, since we’re technically in the southern hemisphere. In those 15 weeks, I learned about the towering kauri trees of the Coromandel and the deep water trench of Kaikoura. But more importantly, I learned the depths of my passion and the scope of my aspirations.
So, what better place to begin a life-changing 16-month journey around the world than a faraway place I call home?
I walked the empty campus and let the memories flood my mind - some of which I had forgotten were there. I imagined both hectic days and lazy ones, wishing to be surrounded by my family just one more time. It’s rare in life to be changed in such a profound way that EcoQuest can do to its students. A part of my soul will forever remain in the tattered couch in Granny’s, in the creaky picnic tables outside the Wharekai, in the spirit of EcoQuest.
While I admittedly held onto a bit of jealousy for the current EcoQuest students, I was mostly excited for them to discover the magic of the adventures they’re about to have. In fact, a lot of the value of EcoQuest has been in the years following my departure from Aotearoa, looking back in reflection as to how it changed me for the better. It’s hard to explain the forces of EQ, and I surely wouldn’t want to spoil it for them, but it would be against the spirit of the EcoQuest family not to leave a note for the current students:
I am sorry to have missed you this weekend, I would’ve loved to meet you and give you all the secrets to a perfect semester here in Aotearoa. Lucky for you, they are even more magical when you discover them yourselves. I walked around an empty campus and memories flooded my mind. I would give anything to be back here with my family. I miss the early morning coffee on the Wharekai patio, or afternoon volleyball, late night Granny’s shenanigans… even 3am DRP all-nighters - don’t worry, they’re not that bad. Cherish every moment you have in this magical place with these magnificent people. Enjoy your adventures, big and small. Absorb the knowledge of those around you. Let it change you. Leave this place better than when you arrived. But again, don’t worry, it happens naturally.
Even in facing the trip of my dreams, I can’t help but covet the days I spent here. EcoQuest made me who I am. EcoQuest gave me passion and ambition to follow my dreams. I am beyond grateful to start this journey at my home on the other side of the world. <3
Take care of it. Leave part of yourself here. Take some of it with you. Hold onto it forever.
All my love,
Marijane Soilis, EQ Fall 2015
Revisiting such a meaningful place reminded me how to open myself up again, how to make myself vulnerable to self-improvement. As I head out on the road for the foreseeable future, I take with me the spirit of EcoQuest. I hope to find the same inspiration as I did two years ago.
Many, many thanks to Ria & Jono for putting us up in cabin 5 this past weekend, and changing my life forever.